SECOND DIVISION

[ G.R. No. 217336, October 17, 2018 ]

REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, PETITIONER, VS. SPS. ILDEFONSO ALEJANDRE AND ZENAIDA FERRER ALEJANDRE, RESPONDENTS.

DECISION

CAGUIOA, J:

Before the Court is a petition for review on certiorari[1] (Petition) under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court (Rules) assailing the Decision[2] dated February 27, 2015 (Decision) of the Court of Appeals[3] (CA) in CA-G.R. CV No. 101259, which sustained the Amended Decision[4] dated June 12, 2008 of the Regional Trial Court of Bangued, Abra, Branch 2 (RTC) in LRC Case No. N-20, which granted the respondents' application for registration of Lot 6487, Cad. 536, Ap-CAR-000007, with an area of 256 square meters located at Barrio Poblacion, Municipality of Bangued, Province of Abra.

The Facts

The CA Decision narrates the antecedents as follows:
On July 18, 1991, Spouses Alejandre (applicants-spouses, for brevity) filed an application for the registration of Lot No. 6487 under P.D. No. 1529, described in plan Ap-CAR-000007, Cad-536, with an area of 256 square meters. They alleged that they are the owners of the subject property by virtue of a deed of sale or conveyance; that the subject property was sold to them by its former owner Angustia Lizardo Taleon by way of a Deed of Absolute Sale executed on June 20, 1990; that the said land is presently occupied by the applicants-spouses.

On September 16, 1991, the Office of the Solicitor General, as counsel for the Republic, entered its appearance.

On November 12, 1991, the Land Registration Authority (LRA, for brevity) submitted a Report noting that there were discrepancies in the plan submitted by the applicant spouses, which discrepancies were referred to the Lands Management Sector for verification and correction.

On January 30, 1992, the trial court issued an order of general default and allowed the applicants-spouses to present their evidence.

On July 20, 1992, the trial court granted the applicant spouses' motion to submit original tracing cloth plan and technical description for purposes of facilitating the approval of the re-surveyed plans as well as the submission of the new plan for the scrutiny and approval of the LRA.

On August 10, 1992, the applicants-spouses filed their Formal Offer of Evidence. On April 26, 1993, they submitted the corrected advance plan and technical description to the trial court.

On August 20, 1993, the LRA submitted its Supplementary Report stating that the "polygon does not close" even after the corrections effected on the bearings and distances of the technical description were made. Hence, the LRA requested for reverification and correction.

In an Order dated December 10, 1997, the trial court deemed the case submitted for decision.

Subsequently, or on April 15, 1998, the LRA submitted its Final Report stating that it applied the corrected technical description of the subject lot and no more discrepancy exists, however, the area was increased by six (6) meters. As such, on August 24, 1998, the trial court ordered the submission of publication of the amended or new technical description. On May 6, 2000, the trial court issued another Notice setting the case for Initial Hearing on July 25, 2000.

On June 1, 2000, the Republic filed its Opposition to the application based on the following grounds: (1) that neither the applicants nor their predecessors-in-interest have been in open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation of the land in question since June 12, 1945 or earlier as required by Section 48 (b) of Commonwealth Act No. 141 (CA 141), x x x as amended by Presidential Decree No. 1073 (PD 1073); (2) that applicants failed to adduce any muniment of title and/or the tax declarations with the petition to evidence bona fide acquisition of the land applied for or of its open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation thereof in the concept of an owner since 12 June 1945 or earlier; that the tax declaration adverted to in the petition does not appear to be genuine and the tax declaration indicates pretended possession of applicants to be of recent vintage[;] and (3) that the subject property applied for is a portion of the public domain belonging to the Republic of the Philippines which is not subject to private appropriation.

After trial, the trial court rendered its Decision dated March 31, 2006 granting the application for registration of title, the dispositive portion of which reads:
"WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Court finds the application to be well-taken and the same is hereby granted.

Let a copy of this decision be furnished the Land Registration Authority, Office of the Solicitor General and Bureau of Lands.

SO ORDERED."
On June 12, 2008, the trial court issued the Amended Decision which increased the area subject for land registration to two hundred sixty-two square meters (262 sqm) from two hundred fifty-six square meters (256 sqm) from the original decision.

Disagreeing with the trial court's grant of the application for land registration, the Republic interposed [an] appeal [to the CA].[5]
Ruling of the CA

The CA in its Decision[6] dated February 27, 2015 denied the appeal of the Republic. The dispositive portion thereof states:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the present appeal is DENIED. Accordingly, the Amended Decision of the Regional Trial Court of Bangued, Abra, Branch 2, is SUSTAINED.

SO ORDERED.[7]
The CA justified that based on the allegations of the applicants­ spouses Ildefonso Alejandre and Zenaida Ferrer Alejandre (respondents) in their application for land registration and subsequent pleadings, they come under paragraph 4 of Section 14, Presidential Decree No. (PD) 1529[8] - those who have acquired ownership of lands in any manner provided for by law - because they acquired the land in question by virtue of a Deed of Absolute Sale executed on June 20, 1990[9] from Angustia Alejandre Taleon who acquired the land from her mother by inheritance.[10]

The Republic filed the instant Petition without filing a motion for reconsideration with the CA on the ground that the CA decided the Republic's appeal in gross disregard of the law and in a manner not in accordance with the applicable decisions of the Court.[11]

Respondents filed their "Comment and Compliance"[12] dated July 18, 2016. The Republic filed a Reply[13] dated March 3, 2017.

The Issue

The Petition raises this sole issue: whether the CA seriously misappreciated the facts as well as made findings which are inconsistent with, or not supported by, the evidence on record; and gravely misapplied the applicable laws and jurisprudence.[14]

The Court's Ruling

The Petition is impressed with merit.

The RTC Amended Decision justified the granting of the application for land registration under the Property Registration Decree (PD 1529) on these factual findings:
It appears from the evidence presented that the applicants acquired the property sought to be registered by means of a Deed of Absolute Sale [dated June 20, 1990 (Exh. "K" to "K5")] executed by Angustia Alejandre Taleon as vendor in favor of the petitioners spouses Ildefonso Alejandre and Zenaida F. Alejandre as vendees. Said property was previously inherited by the vendor from her late mother Angustia Alejandre who inherited the same property from Don Santiago Alejandre, the grandfather of the applicant Dr. Ildefonso Alejandre.[15]
The CA sustained the RTC Amended Decision in this wise:
Under Section 14 of PD No. 1529, there are four (4) types of applicants who may apply for registration of title to land[,] viz[.]:
Section 14. Who may apply. The following persons may file in the proper Court of First Instance an application for registration of title to land, whether personally or through their duly authorized representatives:

(1) Those who by themselves or through their predecessors­-in-interest have been in open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation of alienable and disposable lands of the public domain under a bona fide claim of ownership since June 12, 1945, or earlier.

(2) Those who have acquired ownership of private lands by prescription under the provision of existing laws.

(3) Those who have acquired ownership of private lands or abandoned river beds by right of accession or accretion under the existing laws.

(4) Those who have acquired ownership of land in any other manner provided for by law. (Italics and Emphasis Ours)
In the case at bar, basing from the allegations of the applicants­ spouses in their application for land registration and subsequent pleadings, clearly, they come under Paragraph 4 of the quoted section and not under Paragraph 1 of the same section. It is undisputed that they acquired the land in question by virtue of a Deed of Absolute Sale executed on June 20, 1990 from Angustia Alejandre Taleon who acquired the land from her mother by inheritance. In other words, the applicant spouses acquired ownership over Lot 6487 through a contract of sale, which is well within the purview of Paragraph 4 of Section 14 of P.D. No. 1529.

As a consequence, the requirement of open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and/or occupation in the concept of an owner has no application in the case at bar. Not even the requirement that the land applied for should have been declared disposable and alienable applies considering that this is just one of the requisites to be proven when applicants for land registration fall under Paragraph 1 of Section 14 of P.D. No. 1529, which is not the case at bar.[16]
The Republic argues that under the law, citing Section 24 of PD 1529 and Section 48(b) of Commonwealth Act No. 141,[17] as amended by Section 4 of PD 1073,[18] before an applicant can register his title over a particular parcel of land, he must show that: (a) he, by himself or through his predecessors-in-interest, has been in open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation of the subject land under a bona fide claim of ownership since June 12, 1945, or earlier; and (b) the subject land falls within the alienable and disposable portion of the public domain.[19]

The Republic also argues, citing Republic v. Sayo,[20] Director of Lands v. IAC[21] and Director of Lands v. Aquino,[22] that in land registration proceedings, the applicant has the burden of overcoming the presumption that the land sought to be registered belongs to the public domain or the presumption of State ownership of the lands of the public domain.[23]

Citing Bracewell v. Court of Appeals,[24] the Republic further posits that to prove that the subject land is alienable, the applicant must establish the existence of a positive act of the government, such as a presidential proclamation or an executive order, an administrative action, investigation reports of Bureau of Land investigators, and a legislative act or a statute, declaring the land as already alienable and disposable.[25]

Pursuant to Article 419 of the Civil Code, property, in relation to the person to whom it belongs, is either of public dominion or of private ownership. As such, properties are owned either in a public capacity (dominio publico) or in a private capacity (propiedad privado).[26]

There are three kinds of property of public dominion: (1) those intended for public use; (2) those intended for some public service; and (3) those intended for the development of national wealth. This is provided in Article 420 of the Civil Code, to wit:
ART. 420. The following things are property of public dominion:

(1) Those intended for public use, such as roads, canals, rivers, torrents, ports and bridges constructed by the State, banks, shores, roadsteads, and others of similar character;

(2) Those which belong to the State, without being for public use, and are intended for some public service or for the development of the national wealth.
With respect to provinces, cities and municipalities or local government units (LGUs), property for public use "consist of the provincial roads, city streets, municipal streets, the squares, fountains, public waters, promenades, and public works for public service paid for by said provinces, cities, or municipalities."[27]

In turn, the Civil Code classifies property of private ownership into three categories: (1) patrimonial property of the State under Articles 421 and 422; (2) patrimonial property of LGUs under Article 424; and (3) property belonging to private individuals under Article 425, hence:
ART. 421. All other property of the State, which is not of the character stated in the preceding article, is patrimonial property.

ART. 422. Property of public dominion, when no longer intended for public use or for public service, shall form part of the patrimonial property of the State.

x x x x

ART. 424. Property for public use, in the provinces, cities, and municipalities, consist of the provincial roads, city streets, municipal streets, the squares, fountains, public waters, promenades, and public works for public service paid for by said provinces, cities, or municipalities.

All other property possessed by any of them is patrimonial and shall be governed by this Code, without prejudice to the provisions of special laws.

ART. 425. Property of private ownership, besides the patrimonial property of the State, provinces, cities, and municipalities, consists of all property belonging to private persons, either individually or collectively.
From the foregoing, property of private ownership or patrimonial property of the State may be sub-classified into:

(1) "By nature or use" or those covered by Article 421, which are not property of public dominion or imbued with public purpose based on the State's current or intended use; and

(2) "By conversion" or those covered by Article 422, which previously assumed the nature of property of public dominion by virtue of the State's use, but which are no longer being used or intended for said purpose. Since those properties could only come from property of public dominion as defined under Article 420, "converted" patrimonial property of the State are separate from and not a subset of patrimonial property "by nature or use" under Article 421.

With respect to lands, which are immovable property pursuant to Article 415(1) of the Civil Code, they can either be lands of public dominion or of private ownership following the general classification of property under Article 419.

Section 3, Article XII of the 1987 Constitution, which embodies the Regalian doctrine, classifies lands of the public domain into five categories - agricultural lands, forest lands, timber lands, mineral lands, and national parks. The provision states:
SEC. 3. Lands of the public domain are classified into agricultural, forest or timber, mineral lands, and national parks. Agricultural lands of the public domain may be further classified by law according to the uses to which they may be devoted. Alienable lands of the public domain shall be limited to agricultural lands. x x x (Emphasis supplied)
Section 3 mandates that only lands classified as agricultural may be declared alienable, and thus susceptible of private ownership. As the connotative term suggests, the conversion of land of the public domain into alienable and disposable opens the latter to private ownership.[28] At that point (i.e., upon the declaration of alienability and disposability), the land ceases to possess the characteristics inherent in properties of public dominion that they are outside the commerce of man, cannot be acquired by prescription, and cannot be registered under the land registration law,[29] and accordingly assume the nature of patrimonial property of the State that is property owned by the State in its private capacity.

As noted by Justice Edgardo L. Paras:
It is believed that forest and mining lands are properties of public dominion of the third class, i.e., properties for the development of the national wealth. Upon the other hand, the public agricultural lands before being made available to the general public should also be properties of public dominion for the development of the national wealth (and as such may not be acquired by prescription); but after being made so available, they become patrimonial property of the State, and therefore subject to prescription. Moreover, once already acquired by private individuals, they become private property. x x x[30] (Emphasis and underscoring supplied)
Thus, it can be gathered from the foregoing that the subject of the land registration application under Section 14 of PD 1529 is either alienable and disposable land of public domain or private land. While Section 14(4) does not describe or identify the kind of land unlike in (1), which refer to "alienable and disposable lands of the public domain;" (2), which refer to "private lands"; and (3) "private lands or abandoned river beds," the land covered by (4) cannot be other than alienable and disposable land of public domain, i.e., public agricultural lands[31] and private lands or lands of private ownership in the context of Article 435.

This premise proceeds from the well-entrenched rule that all lands not appearing to be clearly of private dominion or ownership presumptively belong to the State.[32] Accordingly, public lands not shown to have been classified, reclassified or released as alienable agricultural land or alienated to a private person by the State remain part of the inalienable lands of public domain.[33] Therefore, the onus to overturn, by incontrovertible evidence, the presumption that the land subject of an application for registration is alienable and disposable rests with the applicant.[34]

Respondents, based on the evidence that they adduced, are apparently claiming ownership over the land subject of their application for registration by virtue of tradition, as a consequence of the contract of sale, and by succession in so far as their predecessors-in-interest are concerned. Both modes are derivative modes of acquiring ownership. Yet, they failed to prove the nature or classification of the land. The fact that they acquired the same by sale and their transferor by succession is not incontrovertible proof that it is of private dominion or ownership. In the absence of such incontrovertible proof of private ownership, the well­-entrenched presumption arising from the Regalian doctrine that the subject land is of public domain or dominion must be overcome. Respondents failed to do this.

The real property tax declarations (Exhibits "L" and "M"), the Deed of Absolute Sale dated June 20, 1990 (Exhibit "K" to "K5"), and the technical descriptions of the subject property (Exhibit "J") are insufficient evidence to overcome the presumption that the land subject of the registration is inalienable land of public domain or dominion. Thus, respondents' application for land registration should not have been granted.

WHEREFORE, the Petition is hereby GRANTED. The Decision dated February 27, 2015 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 101259 and the Amended Decision dated June 12, 2008 of the Regional Trial Court of Bangued, Abra, Branch 2 in LRC Case No. N-20 are REVERSED and SET ASIDE. Respondents' application for registration in LRC Case No. N-20 is DISMISSED without prejudice.

SO ORDERED.

Carpio, Senior Associate Justice, (Chairperson), Perlas-Bernabe, A. Reyes, Jr., and J. Reyes, Jr.,* JJ., concur.


* Designated additional Member per Special Order No. 2587 dated August 28, 2018.

[1] Rollo, pp. 18-50, excluding Annexes.

[2] Id. at 52-60. Penned by Associate Justice Socorro B. Inting, with Associate Justices Hakim S. Abdulwahid and Priscilla J. Baltazar-Padilla concurring.

[3] Fourth Division.

[4] Rollo, pp. 61-63. Penned by Judge Corpus B. Alzate.

[5] Id. at 52-54.

[6] Id. at 52-60.

[7] Id. at 59.

[8] AMENDING AND CODIFYING THE LAWS RELATIVE TO REGISTRATION OF PROPERTY AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES, otherwise known as the "PROPERTY REGISTRATION DECREE".

[9] Also appears as June 28, 1990 in the RTC Decision and Amended Decision; see rollo, pp. 62 & 109.

[10] Rollo, p. 56.

[11] Id. at 19.

[12] Id. at 158-168.

[13] Id. at 181-188.

[14] Id. at 26.

[15] Id. at 62.

[16] Id. at 56-57.

[17] AN ACT TO AMEND AND COMPILE THE LAWS RELATIVE TO LANDS OF THE PUBLIC DOMAIN, otherwise known as the "PUBLIC LAND ACT".

[18] EXTENDING THE PERIOD OF FILING APPLICATIONS FOR ADMINISTRATIVE LEGALIZATION (FREE PATENT) AND JUDICIAL CONFIRMATION OF IMPERFECT AND INCOMPLETE TITLES TO ALIENABLE AND DISPOSABLE LANDS OF THE PUBLIC DOMAIN UNDER CHAPTER VII AND CHAPTER VIII OF COMMONWEALTH ACT NO. 141, AS AMENDED, FOR ELEVEN (11) YEARS COMMENCING JANUARY 1, 1977.

[19] Rollo, p. 27.

[20] 269 Phil. 74 (1990).

[21] 292 Phil. 341 (1993).

[22] 270 Phil. 392 (1990).

[23] Rollo, p. 28.

[24] 380 Phil. 156 (2000).

[25] Rollo, p. 28.

[26] II Edgardo L. Paras, CIVIL CODE OF THE PHILIPPINES ANNOTATED, p. 40 (17th ed. 2013).

[27] CIVIL CODE, Art. 424, first par.

[28] Such as a patent, the latter being a contract between the State and the grantee.

[29] II Edgardo L. Paras, supra note 26, at 47-48.

[30] Id. at 55; citation omitted.

[31] Defined as those alienable portions of the public domain which are neither timber nor mineral lands. Id., citing Alba Vda. De Raz v. CA, 372 Phil. 710, 736 (1999).

[32] Republic v. T.A.N. Properties, Inc., 578 Phil. 441, 450 (2008), citing Republic v. Naguiat, 515 Phil. 560, 565 (2006).

[33] Republic v. Naguiat, id. at 565, citing Menguito v. Republic, 401 Phil. 274, 277 & 287 (2000).

[34] Republic v. T.A.N. Properties, Inc. supra note 32, at 450, citing Republic v. Naguiat, id.



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